How Do I Chop Down a Tree With an Axe?


Chopping down a tree with an axe takes longer than using a chainsaw, but as you gain experience, it becomes less work than at first. Use a sharp axe that's as heavy as you can swing comfortably and light enough so you always have control of it. To begin, choose a small, softwood tree that has an obvious lean in one direction, so its fall will be easy to control. Experienced wood-cutters can adjust the direction a tree falls by how they cut it, but it's easier for a beginner to work with the natural lean of the tree.

  • Stand back and look at the tree to judge which way it's leaning, so you can estimate which way it will naturally fall. Make sure there's enough room for it to fall in that direction without it catching on another tree. If there's a tree in the way, fell that tree first instead -- or choose another tree.

  • Clear enough space on all sides of the tree so you can stand at a comfortable distance from it and swing the axe behind you without catching it on bushes or branches of other trees. Pull away vines, break over bushes or cut off small branches to give yourself enough room.

  • Swing the axe against the tree horizontally at a comfortable height, so it strikes the tree on the side that the tree is most likely to fall toward. Swing again so the axe strikes about an inch above the first blow. With luck, a chip of wood will pop out. Continue swinging, alternating between horizontal strokes below and more angled strokes above, until you've cut a notch halfway into the tree. The bottom surface should be approximately level and the top should slant up at about 45 degrees.

  • Move to the other side of the tree. Plan a path to retreat quickly when the tree begins to fall. Cut another notch the same way, starting about 2 inches higher than the bottom of the previous notch. As soon as the tree begins to tip, stop working and move clear, since the tree may kick back or fall at an unexpected angle.

Tips & Warnings

  • Practice using an axe on felled trees, then cut down small trees to gain experience before cutting larger ones. While working, always pay close attention to the tree and be ready to evacuate if it starts to fall unexpectedly. If possible, have an experienced person help you judge which way it's likely to fall. Avoid cutting trees when it's windy.
  • Make sure your axe's head is tight before you begin, so it won't fly off. Pound another metal wedge into the end of the handle to wedge it tight against the head if it's loose.

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  • Photo Credit axe image by Sean Gladwell from
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